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The Dummies’ Guide to Cajun Seasoning
Odds are, you’ve got at least one bottle of Cajun seasoning sitting around your spice rack (and if you don’t, you certainly should). But do you know the history of that flavor-packed bottle? And, more importantly, do you know how to harness the power of this scrumptious spice blend to level-up your chef skills and concoct some truly delectable dishes? Read on for everything you need to know about Cajun seasoning, including what it is and what to cook with it.
An Extremely Brief History of the Cajuns (aka “Acadians”)
Let’s start with the basics here: What the heck is “Cajun”? If your knowledge doesn’t go far beyond throwing down on Mardi Gras and calling your Louisiana-born buddy a “Ragin’ Cajun,” prepare to expand your mind. Historically speaking, the Cajun population came into existence when French settlers landed in Acadia (aka “Eastern Canada”), settled there for a while, and then eventually fled to Louisiana. They’re best known for their unique French dialect, culture, music, and—last, but certainly not least—cuisine.
The Rise of Cajun Cuisine
Being a bunch of expatriates, the original Cajun population were mostly lower middle class farmers. They adapted to their new environment and combined their French roots and recipes with local ingredients, like rice, okra, oysters, alligator, crawfish, catfish (and just about anything else they could pull out of the bayou), and—occasionally—pork. With influences from Native Americans, Spaniards, and African Americans, among others, Cajun cuisine evolved into the hearty, spicy, flavor-packed meals that we know, love, and celebrate today. Some signature Cajun dishes include gumbo (a soup made with a medley of shellfish and meats), jambalaya (a meat- and vegetable-heavy rice dish), and boudin (pork sausage).
Cajun vs. Creole: Similar But Not The Same
While people often use the terms “Cajun” and “Creole” interchangeably, they’re actually two distinct groups from the same region. As mentioned above, the Cajuns came to Louisiana by way of Acadia, aka coastal Canada. The Creoles, on the other hand, have a much more highly debated origin. While the Cajuns inhabited rural Louisiana, the Creoles were focused around the city of New Orleans. As such, they developed some distinct differences in their cuisines based on available resources; namely, the city folk had access to specialty ingredients, like tomatoes, and refrigeration to store perishable ingredients, like butter. One quick way to determine whether a dish is Cajun or Creole is to check for the presence of tomatoes—if they’re there, it’s probably Creole cooking (although exceptions abound today). Even so, you can generally use Creole seasoning in place of Cajun seasoning to deliver equally exceptional results.
What is Cajun Seasoning?
Cajun seasoning is a humble spice blend that can be used on basically anything to lend a little extra “oomph!”. The primary ingredients in any classic Cajun seasoning are: Cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and black pepper. Some blends take it a step further with any combination of common additions, like paprika (or smoked paprika), onion powder, oregano, thyme, and salt, but these are totally optional.
What Does Cajun Flavor Taste Like?
Since—as mentioned above—Cajun seasoning is basically just a blend of cayenne pepper and garlic, Cajun flavor is most often described as equal parts bold and spicy (from the pepper) and earthy (from the garlic). If the blend contains paprika, a common addition, it will also add a level of sumptuous smokiness that further rounds out the flavor.
Sensitive palates may mistake Cajun flavor for being aggressively spicy (and, we’ll admit, most Cajun food does have a good amount of heat to it), but it’s actually a well-rounded, deeply savory flavor profile. That’s why we love using Cajun seasoning on just about everything, from traditional Cajun dishes to french fries, shrimp, salmon, turkey, veggies—the list goes on and on.
How to Make Cajun Seasoning
With so many pre-mixed Cajun seasonings available, we’d highly recommend going the store bought route on this one. But if you’re dead-set on making your own Cajun seasoning, you can combine garlic powder and cayenne pepper in a 2:1 ratio (so just use twice as much garlic as you do cayenne). Then add a hefty amount of paprika to help round out the flavor (double or even triple the amount of cayenne used is usually appropriate). Finish it off with your favorite optional add-ins, like salt, pepper, onion powder, oregano, and thyme, and voila!, you’ll be transporting your tastebuds to the bayou in no time.
Cajun Seasoning Recipes
If you’ve got a shaker-full of Cajun seasoning just begging to be used, you’re probably wondering what’s the best Cajun dish? Well, that depends entirely on whether you’re looking for a traditional Cajun recipe, like gumbo, or an Americanized opportunity to apply your favorite spice blend. Whatever you prefer, check out these simple Cajun-inspired recipes to get started, then go wherever the bayou breeze takes you—seriously, Cajun seasoning is so versatile you can apply it to just about any (savory) dish for an oh-so-amazing flavor combination.
- Cajun Fries – Grab your favorite homemade french fry recipe (or snag a bag of the frozen stuff from the grocery store), cook according to the instructions, and then place the fries in a large bowl or paper bag with a teaspoon or three of Cajun seasoning. Shake, stir, and toss ‘em all around, serve with ketchup or your favorite creamy dip, and then dive in!
- Cajun Seared Shrimp – Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat, then add a few cloves of garlic, a pound of shrimp, and a tablespoon or two of Cajun seasoning. Toss well to coat the shrimp with all the flavorful goodness, then cook for 3–5 minutes until the shrimp are cooked through. Serve with grits to really let the flavor shine.
- Cajun Grilled Salmon – Brush salmon with olive oil, then apply a generous coating of your favorite Cajun seasoning to the skin side. Place the salmon skin side down on a hot grill and cook for 3–4 minutes until nearly cooked through, then flip and cook for another 1–2 minutes. Serve with some grilled asparagus, your favorite grain, and a lemon wedge for a light and satisfying summertime meal.
- Cajun Turkey – If you’re looking to spice up your favorite holiday bird, this one’s for you. Thaw, clean, and prepare the turkey, then drizzle it with olive oil and rub the outside with a generous amount of Cajun seasoning. Cook the Cajun turkey in the oven for 30 minutes at 425ºF to help create a crisp skin, then lower the heat and cook it like normal until the internal temperature reaches 165ºF. If you’d like to take it a step further, check out our recipe for Mardi Gras Turkey.
- Cajun Dip – The ideal dip for chips, veggies, crackers, and more, our Low Fat Tuesday Dip is about as easy as they come. Just combine 2 cups of sour cream (choose low fat for a more health-conscious dip) with 2 tablespoons of your preferred Cajun or Creole seasoning and serve!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is in Cajun seasoning?
Cajun seasoning consists of three primary ingredients: Cayenne Pepper, Garlic Powder, and Black Pepper. However, many spice blends like to expand on the original recipe with the most common mix-ins including paprika, salt, onion powder, oregano, and thyme.
Cajun vs. Creole seasoning: What’s the difference?
While very similar, the primary difference between Cajun and Creole seasonings is this: Cajun seasoning contains a combination of ground peppers—cayenne, black, white, etc.—while Creole seasoning is heavy on the herbs—paprika, oregano, thyme, etc. Many blends blur the lines and include pepper in their Creole seasonings or add herbs to their Cajun seasonings, but Cajun seasoning is usually the spicier of the two.
Is Cajun seasoning really spicy?
Since all Cajun seasoning blends contain some amount of cayenne pepper, it’s safe to assume that Cajun seasoning is spicy. Now, we wouldn’t consider it tongue-scorchingly, sweat-inducingly spicy (if that’s the flavor you’re looking for, check out our selection of extreme hot sauces), but it’ll definitely warm you right up.
What can I substitute for Cajun seasoning?
If you’re in the middle of a Master Chef moment but you just ran out of your favorite Cajun seasoning blend, you can easily substitute a combination of cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and paprika to achieve an “I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Cajun” experience. Once you’ve averted that crisis and earned top rankings on your kitchen improv skills, go ahead and order yourself a king size container of your favorite Big Easy Cajun Seasoning to ensure you never have to deal with that disaster again!